Why is Poland poor compared to other European countries?
In terms of GDP per capita (2015), Poland is 28th (nominal) or 27th (PPP) in Europe. Out of 45 countries in total, it's not great, but not exactly the poorest. As for the reasons, Poland fell under the Soviet influence after WWII, which has done a lot of damage to the economy. Poland was not the only country affected by that. In fact, the bottom 23 of that list (nominal) are all Eastern Bloc countries plus Turkey. Then, there are Greece and Portugal, two poorest "Western" countries, and then there is Slovenia at 20th. The top 19 are all countries that didn't have to go through the communist phase. I'd say that Poland ranking 7th out of all Eastern Bloc countries isn't that terrible. There is no good reason to single out Poland as "poorer compared to other European countries", as we should actually be talking about the entire Eastern Bloc.
In terms of development, take a look at the List of sovereign states in Europe by Human Development Index - Wikipedia. According to this index, there are 22 less developed countries in Europe, including Portugal, Hungary, Croatia, and Russia. There are 24 countries ahead of Poland. It is not bad, not great, it is an average European country.
In terms of education, I'm not sure what the claim that Poland is less educated than other European countries is based on. OECD's Universal Basic Skills study (asking 15 year olds questions on maths and science) found that Poland is 11th in the world (out of 76 countries) and 5th in Europe (behind Finland, Estonia, Switzerland, and Netherlands). worldknowing.com's Top 10 most Educated Countries in the World, which focuses on higher education, lists Poland in the 5th place in Europe (behind UK, Sweden, France, and Germany). Poland has many flaws but being uneducated is not one of them.
Overall, a question like "Why is Poland wealthy, more developed, and more educated than other European countries?" would be just as valid. Poland is an average European country in terms of wealth and development, and one of the top in terms of education. I hope that helps.
Poland is poorer compared to the West Europe generally speaking, but if you compare the countries in the region the differences will not be so great. As for myself, every year I can see that the gap is getting smaller and smaller.
But - answering the question - Poland is/was much poorer than West Europe, because of its geografical location. But I will not write about the wars etc. but the trade. Until 16th century I wouldn't say that Poland (or central and western Poland at that time, don't forget, that our borders have been moved much to the West.). was poorer than Britain or Spain. Everything has changed due to the geographic discoveries - with money and resources coming from the colonies by the sea routes the trade has developed in the West, raising the amount of capital and economic development, while Poland remained agricultural exporting tons of wheat and wood to the West. We were like Russia nowadays - the place with lots of natural resources but without technology. It doesn't mean that it was so bad, the lands of modern Poland and Ukraine are very fertile and it was neither famine, nor food shortages. In fact we produced so much, that Commonwealth could afford to export it, there was no need to develop and after some time (17th and 18th century) we paid the price.
Poland is not poor, nor it is undeveloped and most certainly it is not uneducated. If fact out of all EU countries, when it comes to primary and secondary education, only Finland is better than Poland.
Considering that those "other European countries" you are referring to are basically the best, most advanced, countries in the world - in everything, your question is really: "Why is Poland not the best country in the world?"
A lot of bad things happened in the 20th century to Poland, so while Poland is in the top 30 nicest countries in the world (it just so happens that the other 25 nicer countries are all west and north of Poland) - out of 196 countries that exist, it will take some time before Poland is the best country in the world. Have patience... :-)
I would suggest you look at the OECD Better Life Index. All the most developed countries in the world are clustered close together having an index between 9.9 and 7.0. Poland is 7.5, btw. Then you have a country like Brazil that has an index of 0.7 or Mexico that has an index of 0.1. And neither Brazil, nor Mexico are actually that bad as compared to countries that are not advanced enough to even be included in OECD.
I don't think you really appreciate how advanced are all EU countries as compared to the rest of the world - regardless of how they measure against each other.
Poland is not poor, it does have the following:
- UNEQUAL wealth distribution. the difference between the "don't have", "haves" and "own it" are noticeable
- POLAND has a high level of education and it accessible to all. OVER the last decade their has been a substantial increase in the number of people graduating with bachelors, masters in all fields
- Poland is an emerging country with a large national population in Poland but also outside of Poland most noticeably in the US and the UK (people with Polish nationality).
- POLAND is still in transit from the switch from communism into capitalism. some don't make the switch but most have and are increasing their level of wealth
- Over the last ten years Polish big cities (warszawa, Kraków, Wrocław etc.) have seen unprecedented rise in employment due to foreign investment.
- In the big cities one deals with an employees market, not an employer market.
- Real estate prices have been going up for the last decade especially in Kraków and Warszawa.
- Some parts on Poland have not been able to profit from the previously mentioned and the standard of life is lower but people still have decent roof, food and families. Instead of a new car a second hand car is driven
If have been in Poland for the last ten years and have never seen so many people without mortgages (housing is not cheap) or owning multiple properties. people go on holidays abroad, drive cars (new or second hand).
I have noticed people struggling to get by due to a lacking social security system, inadequate state pensions or unemployment.
BUT over the last ten years I have seen the average person increase their standard of living.
NOTE: I have worked and lived in Kraków, Gdańsk and Warszawa but have travelled around the entire country.
Is Poland poor NO is the standard of life equal to for instance Norway or Singapore, NO but every month progress is made.
I have lived in Sweden, people tell me that is a rich country, yet I have never seen so many homeless people in my life...
I think when you ask the question you fail to realize this:
Many people already expressed their opinion. Let me add something hopefully different.
According to The Economist, Poland tripled its GDP per capita in the past 20 years. But there is a limit where it can go without significant changes.
One measure of industrialization is % people living on farms. In the US it is about 2% (and they produce more food than the country can eat). In the UK it is about 4%. In Poland it used to be 25%, now maybe less, but still relatively high.
Compared to rich european countries like Germany, Poland produces less so-called value-added products, high-tech products requiring a lot of sophistication. For example, Switzerland produces watches, Liechtenstein dentures, Poland produces pork and potatoes. Lack of value-added product development depresses wages for everyone, from construction workers to doctors and scientists.
There are many international companies present in Poland but they are happy selling their products and services and employing well-educated, english-speaking, relatively cheap labor force, not having things designed in Poland. Poles are less likely to start their own high-tech companies, partially due to bureaucracy.
As measured by %GDP spent on R&D, patents filed relative to population, and ranking of universities, Poland is the 3rd least innovative country in the EU (following Romania and Greece). Not that polish universities are bad, just none of them are in the world's top 200.
For current conservative-populist government, science and innovation are not a priority, religion and nationalistic patriotism is.